Bowser Administration defines limit of D.C. cross sector collaboration

Recently, the editors of the Washington Post described the highly depressing situation regarding the Southwest campus of AppleTree Early Learning PCS. For the past five years the school has been located in trailers owned by AppleTree on the site of DCPS’s Jefferson Middle School. Jefferson is in the process of undergoing modernization so AppleTree has been informed that it must vacate the property this coming July. The charter, after undergoing a typically frustrating facility hunt, has secured a permanent home but it will not be ready until the following school year. The Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn has refused to delay the construction project and has been unable to identify another temporary site for AppleTree, while actually referring to the leadership of AppleTree, my hero Jack McCarthy, as “irresponsible” regarding this matter. Here’s the Post’s view:

“Perhaps AppleTree could have done more, but that raises the question of why the city doesn’t feel more of a sense of responsibility for preserving what it agrees is a top-flight program. AppleTree provides not simply day care but data-driven instruction designed to help disadvantaged students, for whom a good start in school makes a critical difference. If these were traditional public school students, there would be no question of finding them space.”

We have really never known D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s feelings toward charter schools because, as far as I know, she has never publicly provided her opinion. But we can now get a clear picture of her view through her actions. In the face of the Public Charter School Board considering the applications of 11 new schools, her Deputy Mayor for Education (notice that the job title states that this position is FOR education) stated that there was already excess capacity even though tens of thousands of students lack access to a quality seat. Recently, Ms. Bowser released the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School for re-purposing, but blatantly failed to follow the law in placing it out for bid to charters. Now we have the case of AppleTree, in which the response to a crisis for 100 three and four year old children from low-income households who attend a Tier 1 charter is to throw them out on the street.

For the past two years, Ms. Bowser has increased the per pupil charter school facility fund by 2.2 percent. This is appreciated but does little good in a city that now has no places in which charter schools can apply this revenue. Unfortunately, more money will not make this problem go away. Unless the city turns over its million square feet of vacant or under-utilized DCPS buildings over to charters, our children will suffer.

D.C. charter school heroes come through in effort to save Monument Academy PCS

In a move that literally brought tears to my eyes and a shiver down my spine, Friendship PCS is making a gallant effort to takeover Monument Academy PCS. I had urged in a couple of recent articles for another charter to come to the rescue to allow this facility that serves some of the most at-risk students in our community to continue. Monument’s mission “is to provide students, particularly those who have had or might have contact with the foster care system, with the requisite academic, social, emotional, and life skills to be successful in college, career, and community, and to create an outstanding school that attracts, supports, and retains exceptional and caring people.”  Now it appears that my desperate hope may indeed become a reality.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss revealed last night that Friendship PCS is working to bring Monument Academy under the Friendship Education Foundation, the organization that runs its schools outside of Washington, D.C. including two in Baltimore and one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But Friendship is not making this effort on its own. It is getting exceptionally strong financial assistance from some of this area’s most prominent school choice advocacy groups. As the Post reports:

“The proposal states that education organizations have committed $700,000 to ensure the budget for the 2019-2020 academic year can support the school. Prominent education groups, including the Bainum, CityBridge and Flamboyan foundations, have committed to helping Monument, according to the proposal.”

Thank you Katherine Bradley.

This has been a particularly busy and prosperous year for Friendship under the exceptional leadership of chief executive officer Patricia Brantley. Already the charter has agreed to assume control of two failed schools, IDEAL Academy PCS and City Arts and Prep PCS, although with City Arts it is more of a situation of bringing parts of this school’s curriculum into its existing network. It has also expanded its on-line institute to high school grades.

Now, the biggest question for me is how Friendship is going to be treated by the DC Public Charter School Board once all these changes are approved. Does the CMO simply get one year of no grading on the Performance Management Framework for each of its new campuses? For all that it is doing to help the most vulnerable children in the nation’s capital, doesn’t it deserve more of a break? Shouldn’t it take steps to encourage other charters to take on the challenges and risks that Friendship is undertaking?

D.C. charter school movement awash in change

During the period that my wife and I were studying charter schools on Cape Cod, change after change was taking place at a breathtaking rate at home regarding our own charter network. As I re-enter my life here in the nation’s capital, please allow me to update you on many of the developments.

First, Ingenuity Prep PCS board chair Peter Winik announced in early June that Will Stoetzer has been named the school’s chief executive officer. Mr. Stoetzer, a co-founder of Ingenuity Prep along with Aaron Cuny, has been in the interim CEO role since December of last year when Mr. Cuny transitioned to the position of senior adviser. I interviewed Mr. Cuny last October. Mr. Winik wrote of the decision:

“The Board’s selection is the result of an inclusive interview process that evaluated Will against a set of qualities co-created by the Ingenuity Prep staff, families, and Board. Will participated in four separate interview panels of key stakeholders–school staff, leadership, families and Board members. The Board then reviewed the feedback from each panel to inform its decision. The Board is incredibly grateful to all panelists–their input was invaluable in the selection process.”

The Ward 8 charter has been anxious to offer its program to more students but has been unable to replicate because it is classified as a Tier 2 institution on the DC Public Charter Board’s Performance Management Framework tool. The last result in 2018 demonstrated that the school slipped in its quantitative score.

Next, the local charter world erupted in excitement because the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Mayor Bowser has released the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School in Southeast for other uses. The facility was shuttered in 2013 due to low student enrollment. Ms. Stein indicated that perhaps the structure will be turned over to a charter which would be the first empty DCPS classroom space that this Mayor has relinquished to the sector. I’m not so sure. Consider the language that the Post reporter in her article captures D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and Ms. Bowser using to describe the change:

“’Because D.C. Public Schools has determined that it does not need the school as a current or future school building, we are opening it up to see how we can make it something really special for the community in that location,’ Kihn said.”

“’We’ve heard it loud and clear from the community — it’s time to reactivate and develop the Ferebee-Hope site to breathe life back into this space and bring new opportunities to the neighborhood,’ Bowser said in a news release. ‘I’m committed to working hand-in-hand with residents on what they want to see at the site.’”

This is about as far as we can get from a strong blanket commitment from our city’s top education leaders to support the public schools that now educate 47 percent of all students in our city. The Mayor’s failure to immediately turn this school over to charters is against the law.

Here’s a warning: You may not want to continue reading. The news is about to get worse.

In May I detailed the trouble the Monument Academy PCS found itself in at the PCSB’s monthly meeting. A piece by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss captured the issues:

“Since the start of this school year, more than 1,800 safety incidents have been reported at the campus, including bullying, property destruction, physical altercations and sexual assault, according to the charter school board. Forty alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and four of sexual assault have been reported. And the charter school board said that on 17 occasions, students have been found to possess a weapon, which ranges from using a stapler in a dangerous manner to a knife.

Half of the school’s roughly 100 students have been suspended this academic year, according to the charter board.”

On June 5th, the Monument Academy board of directors voted to close the school at the end of this academic year. Charles Moore, the charter’s board chair, explained the reasons behind the move in a letter to the school’s community:

“First, we believe the likelihood of the Public Charter School Board renewing the charter in the upcoming review cycle was low, based on what we heard when board members met with PCSB staff and trustees on April 26. The core message was that when schools have not met their accountability goals, the only path to charter renewal would be having a clear, positive trajectory in student outcomes. Our own analysis of the performance showed that while there were pockets of success with student progress—in fact, many students saw tremendous gains—the aggregate results showed uneven gains and an unclear path to create faster growth in a short time frame. Second, despite the valiant work of our family engagement team, the board believed that our student recruitment numbers were behind the pace needed (based on the historical record) to reach our enrollment target of 120 students by the start of the school year.”

I am sure that the charter’s CEO and co-founder Emily Bloomfield is personally crushed regarding the situation, as she put all of her heart and soul into Monument Academy. In fact, I have never seen a more rapid denouement of a charter school. Just last year at a CityBridge Education forum, the staff of this school received accolades for the methods it has implemented for caring for children who have suffered Adverse Childhood Events.

In his letter, Mr. Moore explains that other charter operators have reached with offers of help. Let’s sincerely hope that one takes over this school of 100 disadvantaged students so that they can be offered the possibility of a bright future.

I was also notified by Golnar Abedin, the executive director and founder of Creative Minds PCS, that after eight years she is stepping down from her position. Here’s a portion of her note to her constituents:

“As a parent and an education professional, I founded Creative Minds International eight years ago with guidance and support from a small and passionate group of parents and co-founders, after discovering that DC public school lacked a meaningful arts-based, international curriculum that welcomed children of varying abilities and backgrounds. We presented a plan to the DC Public Charter School Board for a unique school that would be inclusive of all learners. We opened our doors in the fall of 2012 to 100 preschool to 2nd-grade students, in a small building on 16th Street. Today we welcome nearly 500 students, in prekindergarten through 8th grade, at our beautiful campus at the Armed Forces Retirement Home.

I could not be more proud of what we have built and accomplished together, with support from colleagues and our community. We became the first public charter school to achieve International Primary Curriculum accreditation, the first to secure a long-term lease in a beautiful, historic federal government building, and the first to succeed in providing high-quality opportunities in an international and arts-based program that is truly inclusive of all learners.”

I interviewed Dr. Abedin in 2018 and I was so impressed that it is a day I will remember for the rest of my life. I will not give away her story here. You will have to read the discussion. Let me just say that there is definitely a reason that the school has a 2,000 student wait list to gain admission.

Finally, at a period when charters are facing their greatest political struggles in their relatively short quarter of a century history, it appears that the support organization Friends of Choice in Urban Schools is undergoing a leadership change. I received a message from Irene Holtzman, its executive director for the last four years, that she is stepping down at the end of this month. No word yet on a successor. Apparently, Michael Musante, the group’s long-term government relations director, is also departing at the conclusion of June. I always thoroughly Ms. Holtzman’s highly energetic enthusiasm when I heard her speak at meetings.

Next time, I think I will simply stay in town.

For D.C. charter schools the war is on; but there is no war

Over the weekend the Washington Post printed an opinion piece by Jack Schneider entitled “School’s Out: Charters were supposed to save public education. Why are Americans turning against them?” The article offers a highly slanted negative view of the charter school movement that contains inaccuracies that have been easily negated by my public policy friends. Mr. Schneider wrote:

“The charter school movement is in trouble. In late December, the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times observed that the charter movement in the Windy City was ‘in hot water and likely to get hotter.’ Among more than a dozen aspirants for mayor, ‘only a handful’ expressed any support for charter schools, and the last two standing for the April 2 runoff election both said they wanted to halt charter school expansion. In February, New York City’s elected parent representatives — the Community and Citywide Education Councils — issued a unanimous statement in which they criticized charters for operating ‘free from public oversight’ and for draining ‘substantial’ resources from district schools. A month later, Mayor Bill de Blasio told a parent forum that in the ‘not-too-distant future’ his administration would seek to curtail the marketing efforts of the city’s charters, which currently rely on New York City Department of Education mailing lists.”

It is all par for the course.

To understand the current environment around charter schools here locally you have to be aware of the obstacles that have been established in an effort to ensure that parents have a limited option as to where to send their kids to receive a premier educational experience.

First, there are no buildings available for charter growth and expansion. Although these are public schools the city is under no obligation to provide them with space as it does when DCPS creates new facilities. I believe it has come to the point in which charter enrollment will freeze because there is nothing whatsoever in the market to lease or purchase. This despite the fact that there is currently 1.3 million square feet of vacant or under-utilized real estate that the traditional schools possess but will not turnover to charters in violation of the law.

Then there is the funding inequity issue. Charters receive an estimated $100 million a year less in revenue than the traditional school are provided by the city. Under the School Reform Act charters and DCPS are to be provided with the same dollars through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. Yet even in the face of a FOCUS engineered lawsuit on this matter the government will not budge. The Mayor will not even engage with the institutions that educates almost half of all public school students, approximately 44,000 pupils, regarding a discussion on this topic.

We are also facing an attempted labor union infiltration of charter schools. First it was attempted at Paul PCS, then at Cesar Chaves PCS, and now at Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS. Please do not be fooled. None of this has to do with transgressions by school administrators or the needs of teachers or parents. The union is trying to obtain a footing in our sector in order to kill it off once and for all.

While all of this is going on charters are educating scholars minute by minute according to the highest standards they can offer. Many of the children housed in their classrooms are the ones regular schools have turned away. They rarely even consider the insurmountable obstacles in their path. The situation is terribly unfair. The message charters are receiving on a daily basis is do your best tirelessly without adequate classroom space, funding, and with the introduction of a third party grossly interfering with the trust that has been established between staff and leadership.

There has got to be a better way.

D.C. charter schools must expand at a much faster rate

Last week WUSA 9 ran an article entitled, “Where are these kids going to go?’ 43 DC charter schools have been closed since 2009. This one is next.” Authors Eric Flack, Jordan Fischer, and Kyley Schultz point out that in the last 10 years the DC Public Charter School Board has shuttered 44 schools for either low academic performance or financial irregularities. In fact, the board lists 65 charters that it has closed since the start of the movement here in the District. The WUSA piece focuses on the charter revocation of National Collegiate Preparatory PCS, and the story is obviously part of the school’s continuing public relations effort to keep the facility going.

At the time the PCSB was considering taking action against this school, I wrote:

“The essence of the proposed solution to what ails this charter, and the arguments that ensued over whether it met its established charter goals, is that it is all too little too late. National Collegiate has been graded six times on the Performance Management Framework during its decade of operation and the results in 2018 were its lowest yet at 26.7 percent. It has been a Tier 3 school for the last three years.”

So there was really no choice but to have this school cease operations at the end of June. But the reporters at WUSA question where its students will now obtain their education, and whether the alternative is worse than the current situation:

“In the case of students at NCP, that option is Ballou High School, which one year ago was embroiled in a graduation scandal for awarding diplomas for chronically truant students. It’s a school whose test scores are four times lower than National Collegiate Prep.”

My hope was that a high-performing charter operator would take over Collegiate Prep. But since this has not occurred, it may be that the children will end up at Ballou, the neighborhood high school characterized by having a poor academic track record. Here is where we as a sector are not doing as well as we could to serve our students.

When a charter school ceases to exist, the fallback for its pupils is often the neighborhood school. In these instances, we are feeding directly into the narrative of charter opponents. They argue that instead of spending millions of dollars on school choice, the community should be strengthening the regular schools with financial resources since when charters eventually close this is where kids end up. The situation has to come to an immediate end. In the face of charter revocation, we have to be able to continue to teach those students in our classrooms.

This would mean creating hundreds more additional seats. In order to get to this point many steps would have to be taken. For example, the securing of charter school facilities is still a major stumbling block whose solution continues to be elusive. Moreover, the charter board needs to immediately look at barriers to entry for the creation of new schools and the growth of existing ones. In addition, the application process for opening a charter has to be simplified. There also must be a relaxing of the criteria under which a school can replicate. Finally, holding charters accountable to the Performance Management Framework has to be adjusted to promote replication.

If we truly care about our kids, when a school is closed having them enroll at a traditional school is not the solution. We need to provide them with admission to one of our proud charters that as a group currently has a wait list of almost 12,000 students.

Washington Post editorial on Bernie Sanders not worth the effort

Yesterday, the editors of the Washington Post printed a commentary attacking the stand Vermont Senator and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has taken against charter schools. The headline grabbed tremendous attention and was perfectly framed. It is entitled, There’s nothing progressive about strangling charter schools. They wrote:

“’The proliferation of charter schools has disproportionately affected communities of color,’ wrote Mr. Sanders as part of his 10-point education plan this month.

Mr. Sanders is right about the outsize effects on minority communities — but those effects have been positive, not negative. Of the nearly 3.2 million public charter school students, 68 percent are students of color, with 26 percent of them African Americans. Studies indicate that students of color, students from low-income families and English-language learners enrolled in public charter schools make greater academic progress than their peers in traditional schools. Research from Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that African American students in charter schools gained an additional 59 days of learning in math and 44 days in reading per year compared with their traditional school counterparts.”

I’m glad that the Post editorial board has proclaimed its opposition to Mr. Sander’s education policy prescriptions. However, I’ve stayed away from talking about his recent speech on the subject. I really do not want to give him the attention. His disparaging of charters that have benefited so many young people who have gone on to college but in the absence of their education would have ended up in prison or dead, proved all I need to know about this man. Here’s the bottom line.  Mr. Sanders cares much more about attracting liberal votes than he does about the people living in poverty he professes to want to help. The senator is clearly one of those individuals who is focused on the needs of adults instead of the kids. It is also obvious that he would sacrifice the future of all of the less fortunate among us for support from labor unions.

I’ve seen multiple comments on Twitter about the Post piece. Many of my friends and colleagues that support charters are cheering its publication. Others who wish to see these alternative schools disappear strongly disagree with the polemic. It doesn’t really matter. The battle lines have already been drawn. The only way that those of us who champion true reform can win is to get more and more families and students into these high-performing schools. We cannot be distracted from the negative rhetoric and the countless efforts to curtail our very existence. We need to takeover the public education system, and to do that we have to be relentless in our pursuit of excellence. When the government or other entities put roadblocks in front of us we must find ways around them.

I just finished reading “The Education of Eva Moskowitz, by the founder and chief executive officer of Success Academy PCS. In one section she points to the variance in standardized test scores between her charter network and those of the traditional New York City schools:

“Some people try to explain away our results by saying that we serve fewer poor and special needs kids than the nearby district schools. Consider Bronx 2. Eighty-eight percent of our students there were Title 1 (meaning poor); at the district school in the same building, PS 55, 96 percent were title 1 (8 percent more). Fourteen percent of our students had learning disabilities; at PS 55, 15 percent did (1 percent more). But while the differences between our students and PS 55’s were minuscule, the difference in results were huge: ninety-nine percent of our students were proficient in math compared to 15 percent at PS 55; 70 percent of our students were proficient in English compared to 7 percent at PS 55. Clearly an 8 percent difference in poverty and a 1 percent difference in special needs doesn’t explain an 84 percent difference in math proficiency and a 63 percent difference in English proficiency” (page 298).

We cannot back down. Educational malpractice has gone on far too long. Every student deserves a seat at a quality school. We have to keep fighting until this last civil rights struggle comes to a just and final conclusion.

Now that D.C. charter board has approved 5 new schools city must provide them with facilities

At the May monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, five new schools were approved to begin teaching children during the 2020 to 2021 term. While these nonprofits have reached an important milestone in being given the green light to open, their most difficult challenge still lies ahead. They must now enter the hunt for a facility. As they signup to work toward this goal with Building Hope or TenSquare they will quickly find out, if they have not already been told, that if their aim is to rent commercially available real estate in the nation’s capital they can cross this option off the list. There is nothing available.

Early in the creation of the charter school movement in the District, the charter school facility allotment was created that provides dollars to acquire space based upon the number of students a school enrolls. The facility fund has played a crucial role in helping charters obtain temporary and permanent buildings. But now this fund is outdated since there is nothing left to lease. Imagine the savings that our local government could realize by ending this revenue stream. With 43,911 pupils in charters and a facility allotment that is projected to increase to $3,335 per student next fiscal year, D.C. spends almost $150 million of its budget on this expenditure. The cost could certainly be significantly reduced to a level adequate for charters to cover building operating costs.

Charter schools should have never have been burdened with the task of converting warehouses, offices, storefronts, and churches for use as classrooms. The city has a moral obligation to provide them with sites as they do for other public schools. Charter schools are in fact public schools.

A year ago a letter Mayor Muriel Bowser sent to Senator Ron Johnson indicated that there is over 1.3 million square feet of “vacant or significantly underutilized DC-owned former DCPS facilities.” More recently, in a memorandum from Paul Kihn to PCSB chair Rick Cruz that attempted to freeze the number of charter schools, the Deputy Mayor for Education reported that DCPS is running at 70 percent of capacity on average at its schools. Therefore there is plenty of room for the five new charters. Vacant DCPS properties need to be transferred to the charter sector and other addresses with empty desks must be utilized for co-location.

Charter schools are public schools. It is past time for the Mayor to immediately turn over these excess structures to charters. Ms. Bowser, provide us with the keys. Today.

Kingsman Academy PCS should takeover Monument Academy PCS

I had an opportunity to watch the presentation of Monument Academy PCS last Monday night before the DC Public Charter School Board. The session has received much attention by Perry Stein and Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post. Ms. Stein cannot be described as a charter school supporter and Ms. Strauss has been a vocal opponent. As stated by the newspaper:

“Since the start of this school year, more than 1,800 safety incidents have been reported at the campus, including bullying, property destruction, physical altercations and sexual assault, according to the charter school board. Forty alleged incidents of sexual misconduct and four of sexual assault have been reported. And the charter school board said that on 17 occasions, students have been found to possess a weapon, which ranges from using a stapler in a dangerous manner to a knife.

Half of the school’s roughly 100 students have been suspended this academic year, according to the charter board.”

A follow-up article by the same individuals indicated that the Monument Academy board of directors is now considering closing the school next month.

Monument Academy PCS is attempting to teach some of the most challenging children in the city. It provides a residential program specializing in those that have been engaged with the foster care system. 80 percent of its students are characterized as at-risk. 60 percent require special education services.

At Monday evening’s hearing co-founder Emily Bloomfield, board chair Charles Moore, and chief operating officer Keisha Morris did an admirable job answering the PCSB’s questions and concerns. However, it appeared that the board and school were talking past each other. As described by Mr. Moore, there was a clear misalignment between the two entities. The difference in perception were so great that there was not even agreement about what constitutes a safety incident, the number of staff that are included in next year’s operating budget, or whether or not the school is meeting its academic goals.

I have seen this movie before and believe me the ending is not a happy one. In cases where there is this much of a difference between visions of reality, the result in almost all cases is charter revocation. The board’s evaluation of this charter is particularly important at this time because next year Monument Academy is facing a high stakes five year review.

I do not think Monument Academy should be closed. As board member Steve Bumbaugh pointed out, the PCSB brings these alternative schools before them who instruct kids who have experienced trauma in their lives and then it beats them up. He remarked, “We are not talking about Washington Latin here.” Mr  Bumbaugh questioned where these students would go if there was not Monument Academy. In addition, because of the stark variance between the viewpoints of the track record of this school, he thought that it was too premature to be having this review.

Something is going to have to be done if Monument Academy is to survive. My recommendation is to have Kingsman Academy PCS take it over. The school has an excellent reputation and handles an extremely similar student demographic. School leader Shannon Hodge is amazing.

The charter board stated that it will be meeting with Monument Academy again next week to see if it can resolve its differences with the school. Meanwhile, the charter’s board chair Mr. Moore told the Post that a decision will be made by June 8th as to whether it will continue operating.

D.C. charter schools need a legal support organization

Please don’t get me wrong this morning. I am not seeking to disparage the fine work of established entities such as FOCUS, The DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, The Center for Education Reform, The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, or Charter Board Partners. But there is a key missing ingredient in the constellation of nonprofits that support school choice in the District of Columbia. We need a group of litigators.

I imagine a new center that will bring legal challenges in the name of educational freedom. Its mission would be similar to the libertarian Institute for Justice. From this organization’s website:

“The Institute for Justice combines cutting-edge litigation, sophisticated media relations, strategic research, boots-on-the-ground advocacy and much more to fight on behalf of those individuals who are denied their constitutional rights. Despite the challenge of taking on powerful government officials and entrenched precedents, IJ is successful in winning 70 percent of its cases in the court of law, in the court of public opinion or through legislative reforms.”

Since its creation in 1991, The Institute for Justice has been involved in more than 250 cases, including the argument of seven in front of the United States Supreme Court.

It is time to bring the power of something like an I.J. to the local charter movement in the nation’s capital. I imagine that this entity would join charters in fighting the myriad of issues now facing these public schools such as the availability of permanent facilities, equitable funding compared to DCPS, and legislation by the Mayor and Council that contradicts the School Reform Act. It would also rein in the charter board when it overreaches its authority. When union activity begins to percolate at our proud institutions such as Paul PCS, Cesar Chavez PCS, and Mundo Verde PCS, these schools would not be on their own. Let’s call it the DC Public Charter School Defense Initiative, which would jump into action, at no cost to those targeted by organized labor, to protect their autonomy.

In his tremendous book Voucher Wars author Clint Bolick describes his founding of I.J. with Chip Mellor, “It would be an explicitly libertarian law firm, with funding attracted by our commitment to a principled, long-term litigation strategy, rather than litigation following funding. . . And from the very first day, we vowed to defend every school choice program until the constitutional cloud was removed. We adopted a motto from the late-night television commercial: If you have a choice program, you have a lawyer!”

The same guiding principal would drive the work of DCPCSDI. If you have a charter school, then you have an attorney covering your back regarding the policy issues of the day. No longer would individual schools be an island trying to rid the educational landscape of wrongs. The battle would be joined by others experienced in using the courts to their advantage.

Who out there would be willing to take up this challenge?

D.C. charter board approves 5 out of 11 applications for new schools

At a busy, fast paced monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, the body went ahead and approved 5 new schools to open at the beginning of the 2020-to-2021 term. It had received a record 11 applications as well as a written warning from Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn that the local market was already saturated with middle and high schools. Chair Rick Cruz, however, was in no mood to listen to someone trying to limit competition for students, especially when the offerings from DCPS in these areas is for the most part, well, crap. He made some other interesting remarks on this subject that the PCSB posted on-line. So on with the show.

But first up on the agenda was Washington Latin PCS which would like to replicate in 2020. Latin, whose board I once served, meets all of the criteria to expand by miles. However, this did not stop PCSB board member Steve Bumbaugh from outlining some facts which he called “exhausting.” For instance, he related that in Washington, D.C. fully half of all public school students are categorized as “at-risk,” but the population at Washington Latin for this group of children is 6.8 percent in middle school and 16.8 percent in high school. Mr. Bumbaugh also found it “frustrating” that the suspension rate for these students is 26.6 percent. His points received applause from the audience. Representatives of the charter, who included head of school Peter Anderson and principal Diana Smith, spoke about their efforts to reduce the suspension rate, and will utilize the still undetermined location for the second campus together with revised marketing efforts to increase the number of kids from low-income households that it serves. Although these comments were not altogether satisfying, look for Latin to have its request to amend its charter approved in June.

Then it was on to the list of new school applications. Those that were given the green light include Capital Village PCS, which will have its home in Ward 1, 4, 5, or 6 and enroll 180 children in its grade five through eight middle school; Girls Global Academy PCS, a ninth through twelfth grade school that would teach 450 young women in Ward 2; I Dream Academy PCS, a pre-Kindergarten three to sixth grade school that will instruct 240 pupils in Ward 7 or 8; Social Justice PCS, a five through eighth grade middle school that would like to open in Ward 5; and the Sojouner Truth PCS, that I wrote about extensively here.

As I had already mentioned, all the applications this cycle were of high quality. The board followed its pattern of previous years and gave the go ahead to 46 percent of those wanting to create new classrooms. I correctly picked three of the five that will open and would have selected three others that the PCSB members did not. One glaring omission I believe is Anna Julie Cooper PCS which would have added 568 pupils in grades Kindergarten through twelfth. I hope this group applies again in 2020 since its initial bid was so thoughtful and strong.

Finally a couple of additional observations. All five approved charters comprised CityBridge Education’s 2018 cohort of new schools, so huge congratulations goes to this organization. In addition, I would not help but notice that all votes by the PCSB were unanimous regarding whether to give a charter a thumbs up or down. We really need someone to show some independence among its membership.